Ayushee Chaudhary | Mar 20, 2019 | 7 min read
Citizen-activists come to Bengaluru’s green cover, once gain!
The emphatic calls of "Tender Raddu Maadi" (Cancel the tender) echoed in the air on March 16 near Bengaluru’s Gandhi Statue at Maurya Circle, Race Course Road for saving Bengaluru's green cover which is under the threat of the lately offered suggestions for an elevated corridor which will be 102-km long and consist of six corridors - three main and three connecting ones. The North-South Corridor will run from Hebbal to Silk Board. The first East-West corridor will run from Bhattarahalli to Gorguntepalya and the second East-West corridor will run from Vartur Kodi to West of Chord Road. The three connecting corridors will run from St John's Hospital to Agara Junction, D'Souza Circle to Phillips Office and Wheelers Road to Banaswadi. Proposed by the Karnataka Road Development Corporation Limited (KRDCL), the Rs 27,000-crore project will lead to cutting down a total of 3,000 trees and also engulf some of the lakes in developmental areas. This appears to be a huge blow to the already rapidly diminishing green space of the city. The protest went for over two and a half hours and included children to senior citizens from all spheres, activists, and members from several organizations and various Resident Welfare Associations.
Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy on March 19 met with members of several citizen groups and said that no action will be taken on this project without consulting the public. A round of discussions is likely to be held after the upcoming general elections. This comes as another victory for the citizen activists of the city who have shelved projects like the infamous steel flyover, widening of Jayamahal Road in the past because of the long-term problems that these projects pose.
The project had received conditional clearance from the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority on March 2 and the tender was floated by KRDCL two days later for the first phase. Even after repeated calls, the officials from KRDCL refused to comment on this matter.
Clearance without Detailed Project Report
After the decision by the CM on withholding any progress in the project without public consultation, Naresh Narsimhan, architect and activist said, “When there is a fleet on the street with over 4,000 people coming for the protest, there's certainly a lot of support. The government is definitely for the people and by the people, and sometimes people tend to forget that. There is something called a Detailed Project Report (DPR) that has to be tabled in public and public consultation be held before a tender is released. Without any DPR in the public, the tender is out. This shows that fundamentally something has gone wrong in the wiring of this project. Obviously, without access to the DPR, we have no idea about any data for the simulation of the project to justify it.”
“Let's come with data, let’s have people who have done transportation and mobility engineering and let's find out through experts about what is really required. It has to be a data-based decision. It's a lot of money after all,” he added.
Lohith Somashekar, an environmental activist said, “It’s impossible to imagine the loss of over 100 trees to be cut in Cubbon Park. It’s a collapse of an entire ecosystem in a day which took decades to develop". In 1973, the tree cover in Bengaluru was 68 percent. Today it is less than 6.5 percent and based on project proposals, it is estimated to decline to 2 percent by 2020. "The need of the hour is to improve public transport connectivity so that people can use buses and metros instead of driving their own cars. Building bridges and flyovers will only encourage more people to use their own transport," added Somashekar.
While the state government was keen to continue the project stating how it will reduce the traffic issues of the city, the Karnataka High Court has asked the government to pause the project until a further decision is made on a case regarding the Bengaluru Metropolitan Committee. The hearing earlier scheduled on March 19, was adjourned and the judgement in the case is awaited.
Four stages of public participation in infrastructural development and urban planning are mandatory under the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act.
Nitin Seshadri, a citizen activist supporting the project said, “Even assuming we get Metro Phase 2 and 3 completed and suburban rail also is done, what will be the capacity of roads to take the additional traffic? Simple calculations show that even if we increase the modal share of public transport by a further 50 percent, still this will mean a 300 percent increase in buses plus a 25 percent increase in private vehicles. Where will these buses and private vehicles ply?"
Earlier victories for the activists
In the past, protests in the form of Satyagraha, #ChukuBekuBeku Rail Yatra, online petitions, and campaigns like ‘call-your-corporator’ have not merely been a show of loud slogan shouting and placard holding, rather a display of disagreement with valid reasoning and alternatives.
Prakash Belawadi, social activist and actor said, “It’s neither the citizens nor the politicians who will decide on what should be done. It can't be just an engineer either who can decide on what can be done, we need experts and professionals in this field to look deep into every aspect and suggest us on what can be done. Bengaluru is already getting worse in all the possible ways not just with traffic but in pollution too, we have acid rains and the groundwater level is going down than before. This year’s (early) summer is already hotter than ever". The temperatures in the city have already crossed 37° C in March this year while the maximum temperature in 2018 was recorded as 35°C in several days of April and May.
‘Rust in peace’, steel flyover!
Flocked by thousands of residents and activists, Bengaluru had witnessed a notable movement in 2016 when a massive human chain formed between the city's Mekhri circle and Basaveshwar Circle against the infamous steel flyover project, clearly made the statement that Bengalureans are not mere spectators of the huge infrastructural developments that do more harm than good to the city. After the successful shelving of steel bridge, the mobilisation has not seen any crumbling through several other ventures with the Jayamahal Road widening, the Graphite India air pollution, commercialisation of residential colonies and now the Cubbon Park area (which is the city's highlights and the most precious green-lung space), the social activists are showing their commitment to saving the green cover of the once claimed garden-city Bengaluru.
“When the steel flyover was proposed, a protest was organised on a Saturday. Around 50 organisations joined hands with us, along with college students, kids, senior citizens, naturalists, activists, and artists. According to the estimation for the policemen, there were more than 2000 to 2500 people present in the protest,” said Belawadi.
Through sustained fights, constant pleas and thorough statements for reasonable causes, the resolute citizens of Bengaluru have been ensuring public engagement, transparency, and inclusivity in the significant matters that concern the city dearly. Under the patronage of multiple welfare groups and activists prominently standing up for city's betterment, citizen activism in the nation's IT-hub is rallying greater strength each time. Whether it comes to saving the generous green trees or getting rid of the stench beyond the garbage dumps; whether it is about encroachments and rejuvenation of lakes or last-mile connectivity; be it construction of skywalks or preservation of national park; from operational to infrastructural steps, the active citizens are assuring that they are a part of every major decision for the city.
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